You know the feeling when you have just experienced something so motivating you just have to write it down? You just need to tell someone – you just know the story angle, and it is perfect. Well for me today was one of those days.
I’m one of 20 people lucky enough to be selected for the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Fellowship Course, which is sponsored by several corporations including Price Waterhouse Coopers and RSA. My fellow students are a mix of people from a wide range of backgrounds. I knew from watching their presentations and meeting them at the various selection stages that they were pretty amazing already. I know I will learn a lot from them. Their entrepreneureal ideas include several projects helping youth in London, youth in Africa, and helping communities install toilets in Africa. Like me, most have already started with their enterprises.
In today’s first session we did exercises to help us focus on our values for our enterprises, writing down our skills and listing what we wanted to gain by the end of the course. From a huge list of values, I decided that my main values were Achievement, Adventurousness, Creativity, Effectiveness, Happiness, Making a Difference and Teamwork. A vision statement for Cafe Art could be: “Connecting people affected by homelessness to the community through art.”
In the afternoon we worked on our personal development evaluations – I listed Determination, Confidence and Measuring Impact as my key skills, and Procrastination and Time Management as my Development Areas. The page is filed away to be revisited in nine months!
We ended the day with a Witness Session. These sessions are presentations by experienced social entrepreneurs, and the first one was the CEO of the SSE, Alastair Wilson, who had been a student on this course 15 years ago. He called his talk Winning Resources and Support and started explaining how the SSE was established by the late Lord Michael Young, who had also set up the Consumer Institute, Which magazine and a variety of other well known UK establishments.
Alistair explained how his social enterprise was called Homeless Direct when he did the course. Of all the projects being established this year Cafe Art was probably the closest to Homeless Direct out of all of them as his idea involved connecting with as many homelessness organisations as possible which is what Cafe Art does, although we are just connecting with the art groups. He explained how his plan was to establish a social enterprise which would direct the public to the local homeless charity in their part of the country, where ever they may be.
Alistair explained that the three test questions that he was asked when he first proposed his project were:
1. Had he run a business before?
2. Did he realise that funders don’t fund fundraising?
3. Did he know that fundraising advertising only attracts £5 from every £100 invested initially?
Alistair explained that during his time on the course he eventually changed the direction of the focus from being a fundraising programme to being a training programme for the homelessness organisations. He solved the first point (he had not run a business before and didn’t like the administrative side of it) by partnering up with the main homelessness organisation at the time. Eventually the social enterprise was financially successful but very different and was not a long term enterprise.
So, how do you win support and resources?
1. It is essential to set up a contact database. Every time you meet someone add them to the database. Nurture them.
2. Perfect your presentation. You should be able to describe it in two minutes and cover the following four points:
- Explain the problem
- Explain the solution
- Explain why is it different
- Explain how they can get involved.
3. Stop asking for permission. Give a presentation to say what you are doing. Tell them and ask what is wrong, get them involved.
4. Write a business plan. This is essential. Do a SWOT analysis. Survey the competition. do a budget, including getting quotes and attaching them to it, and other research. Do scenario plans for low, medium and high sales/success when applying for funding. Find a benchmark and do a survey. Ask advice, ask strangers for comments, ask professionals for advice. Ask, ask, ask.
5. Set up an advisory panel and make it easy for them to meet two to four times a year. Put their names on the marketing material. Your currency with these panelists is trust. Treat the relationship like gold – no surprises!
The rest of the session was filled with sound advice, gleaned from experience. We were all keenly making notes, all mentally applying the examples given to our own cases, asking questions and listening to the answers as if Alistair was the only person to have ever set up a social enterprise before. We knew this advice was gold. I can’t wait for tomorrow when the course continues.